- The wave of protests against the 30-year rule of Omar al-Bashir started in December but intensified at the weekend when huge crowds gathered at a crossroads in front of a heavily guarded military complex in the centre of Khartoum.
- Salah said she does not come from a political background, and took to the streets to fight for a better Sudan. “Our country is above any political parties and any sectarian divisions,” she said.
Khartoum. The young woman in a photo that has come to symbolise the protest movement in Sudan has been identified as Alaa Salah, a 22-year-old architecture student in Khartoum.
Salah told the Guardian she was happy that the image, taken on Monday evening at a demonstration in the Sudanese capital, had been viewed so widely.
“I’m very glad that my photo let people around the world know about the revolution in Sudan … Since the beginning of the uprising I have been going out every day and participating in the demonstrations because my parents raised me to love our home,” Salah said.
The wave of protests against the 30-year rule of Omar al-Bashir started in December but intensified at the weekend when huge crowds gathered at a crossroads in front of a heavily guarded military complex in the centre of Khartoum.
Salah said she does not come from a political background, and took to the streets to fight for a better Sudan. “Our country is above any political parties and any sectarian divisions,” she said.
“The day they took the photo, I went to 10 different gatherings and read a revolutionary poem. It makes people very enthusiastic. In the beginning I found a group of about six women and I started singing, and they started singing with me, then the gathering became really big.”
“I have practiced presenting at the university; I don’t have an issue with speaking in front of people and at big gatherings.”A line in the poem she read – “The bullet doesn’t kill. What kills is the silence of people” – is popular with protesters, and was chanted by demonstrators in January 2018 and during unrest in September 2013.
Salah’s mother is a fashion designer working with the traditional Sudanese toub – the dress she was wearing in the photographs – and her father owns a construction company.
The garment has become a symbol of the female protesters, and Salah said she had narrowly escaped arrest when she wore the toub at an earlier demonstration. “The toub has a kind of power and it reminds us of the Kandakas,” Salah said.
Kandakas were queens of the Nubian kingdom of Kush, which ruled much of what is now modern-day Sudan more than 3,000 years ago.
Some commentators have raised concerns that the reference represents only one of Sudan’s many ethnic and tribal communities and that while the history of the Nubians is particularly popular with the Sudanese diaspora it excludes many of the country’s communities.
Salah said she now has to rest her voice as her throat has become sore from all the chanting this week.
Women key in Sudan protests
A Sudanese woman propelled to internet fame earlier this week after leading powerful protest chants in the capital told AFP Wednesday that women are key to the uprising against President Omar al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule.
“Sudanese women have always participated in revolutions in this country,” Alaa Salah said after footage went viral of her standing on a car, singing and conducting crowds outside the army headquarters in Khartoum.
“If you see Sudan’s history, all our queens have led the state. It’s part of our heritage.”
In the clips and photos, the elegant Salah stands atop a car wearing a long white headscarf and skirt as she sings and works the crowd, her golden full-moon earrings reflecting light from the fading sunset and a sea of camera phones surrounding her.
“I’m very proud to take part in this revolution and I hope our revolution will achieve its goal,” added the engineering and architecture student at Sudan International University.
Dubbed online as “Kandaka” or Nubian queen, she has become a symbol of the protests which she says have traditionally had a female backbone in Sudan.
Her new-found fame pushed her to set up her own Twitter account in which she thanked everyone “from the bottom of my heart. The struggle for a democratic and prosperous Sudan continues”.
Sudan is for all
In another tweet on Wednesday she says she “wanted to get on the car and speak to the people… speak against racism and tribalism in all its forms, which affects everyone across all walks of life.
“I wanted to speak on behalf of the youth. I wanted to come out and say that Sudan is for all.”
Supporters celebrated the young protest leader across social media networks, calling her a “hero” and an “icon”.
“This image from Sudan will be in the history books,” wrote one user.
But late on Wednesday she tweeted that she had been receiving “death threats” after her footage went viral.“I will not bow down. My voice can not be suppressed,” Salah wrote.
Demonstrators have been camped outside the military complex for days asking the army to back them in demands that Bashir step down.
Women have made up a large part of the demonstrators that since Saturday have thronged outside the sprawling army complex.
Braving regular volleys of tear gas, the crowds have been the biggest yet to rally against Bashir’s rule since unrest broke out in late December.